Finally, the All Blacks put it together back-to-back.
The Bledisloe Cup, Rugby Championship, World Cup trophies are stored away, and, in two weeks, the world record of 17 consecutive wins for top tier nations should be achieved against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
But possibly the most satisfying aspect of the All Blacks' commanding 32-16 victory in Soweto yesterday was their ability to front with the same intensity two weeks in a row.
That hasn't been a hallmark of this side. In fact, it's been their biggest fault, the real bugbear. Too often they've delivered a jaw-dropping performance only to undo it the following week with a
After trouncing Argentina in seven-try style last week it wouldn't have been surprising if the All Blacks clocked off and felt they were at the top of their game.
But, for the first time in recent memory, those exemplary standards were retained, and lifted, to remain unbeaten in the tournament and nine tests this year. What's more impressive is those two contrasting triumphs came on a relentless road trip with recovery and travel challenges thrown in.
Compliancy was a real danger with the championship trophy not on line, but the All Blacks collectively found a new source of motivation against the Boks.
"That's the most challenging thing in top sport; being able to get the mental side right," All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said.
"There's very little between the top teams. If we were going to keep progressing as a team we needed to back it up, otherwise you can question yourself again.
"That's what I was proud of. A lot of the guys that have been around a while kept that edge."
That mental edge is what sets this team apart, and well ahead of their rivals. It was needed in-front of over 80,000 crazed South African supporters at Soccer City.
Being down 10-0 after 30-minutes is enough to break some teams. Not the All Blacks.
Steve Hansen's men withstood the Boks brutal onslaught and then broke their spirit in the second-half.
"We want this team to go to another level," Kieran Read said.
"We showed a lot of character to get it right. The leadership group does a fantastic job of making sure we're as mentally prepared as we can be.
We know we can overcome any situations."
Boks captain Jean de Villiers said before the match that if the All Blacks beat his side it was scary how far they could go.
Victory against the depleted Wallabies could allow the All Blacks to establish a near-untouchable record on the end-of-year-tour to Europe where they haven't lost since 2002.
Beating the Boks at altitude is one of the toughest tasks in world rugby.
The 16-point margin and manner of victory was so emphatic it's difficult to comprehend who can stop this black juggernaut.
"Although we are the second best team in the world we still have a long way to go," Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer conceded.
"There's a huge difference between I believe second and first. Even if they play badly there's one or two brilliant players who can pull it through.
"It's going to take a special team to beat them and it's going to take some luck. For the next year or two they are still going to be a quality side."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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